With a new schedule release for the SEC comes a new opportunity to break down the league’s schedule strength and a host of other elements. 247Sports’ Chris Hummer already broke down some of the winners and losers of the new schedule.
Schedules don’t usually win a team a championship, but they can absolutely rob a team of an opportunity to win a title. To that end, I broke down each team’s schedule strength into five categories: Easy, light, average, tougher, absurd. Four categories should have sufficed, but as you’ll see one team’s schedule was two full standard deviations tougher than the average slate.
With the SEC playing 10 league games, that means each team will have three opponents it does not play, plus the obvious exclusion of the team itself. Each team will play its six divisional opponents and four crossover opponents.
In order to do this, I used a Vegas-style power rating comprised of some well-known analytics and some tiny adjustments for recent off-season events (transfers, dismissals, injuries) which have not yet been incorporated into the models.
As you’ll see, much like the Big Ten did, the SEC made sure to serve up easy wins to its teams who have a legitimate shot to be in the College Football Playoff hunt.
EASY: Florida, Georgia, LSU
These three teams stand out quite obviously against the rest as having clearly the easiest set of opponents in the SEC.
Florida gets an added game against Texas A&M, which should be an improved team, but also gets a gimme against Arkansas. Still, the Gators have the easiest schedule in the league by a slim margin. Florida gets to play seven of the bottom eight teams in the league and misses Alabama from the West.
Right behind the Gators is Georgia. The Dawgs’ schedule is tougher than Florida’s ever so slightly. The added games for Georgia are a bit of a gift, getting Mississippi State and Arkansas. And the Dawgs get to play eight of the league’s bottom nine. However, Georgia does have to play Alabama.
LSU also caught a break on Friday with the new schedule additions being Vanderbilt and Missouri. The Tigers are the only West team in the “Easy” schedule category. LSU dodges three of the four best teams from the East and draws the six worst rated teams in the league. This could cushion the blow of losing what feels like an entire roster to the NFL draft.
LIGHT: Texas A&M
Texas A&M picked up Florida and Tennessee on Friday, but still come in decently below the average schedule difficulty. The Aggies do get to play seven of the league’s nine projected worse teams and do not draw Georgia or Kentucky from the East.
AVERAGE: Alabama, Missouri, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Tennessee
These six teams all come out with remarkably similar scores, smack dab around the average.
Alabama added Kentucky and Missouri on Friday, meaning it now plays three of the four best teams in the East. So why is Alabama in this category? Ten other teams have to play the top team in the league, while Alabama obviously does not.
Missouri seemed like the sacrificial lamb for the league adding both Alabama and LSU on Friday. But Missouri entered the day with what was by far the easiest schedule in the league. Adding the Tide and Bayou Bengals moves them to the middle of the pack.
TOUGHER: Auburn, Vanderbilt, South Carolina
This trio came out to about a half of a standard deviation tougher than the average schedule.
Auburn picked up Tennessee and South Carolina, meaning it now plays four of the projected top five teams in the East, missing only Florida.
Vanderbilt added LSU and Mississippi State. Vandy misses Alabama but also misses Arkansas, which might have been its only probable win in the league had it happened.
What the heck? The SEC had better take care of Arkansas in the future.
The jump between the Auburn, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina schedules is absolutely crazy. Arkansas is more than two standard deviations higher than the average schedule. No other team is much more than a half above. Arkansas entered the day with the toughest schedule in the league and then the league added Georgia and Florida?
This is so extreme it makes me wonder if Arkansas didn’t volunteer to get these games out of the way in a year in which it knows it won’t be very good.
The Razorbacks only play four of the bottom eight teams in the league, by far the lowest of any team.